10 Must-Dos in London

10 Must-Dos in London
10 Must-Dos in London

Venice Trip Report

Venice Trip Report
Venice Trip Report

Disneyland California Trip

Disneyland California Trip
Disneyland California Trip

August EP614 Sports Earphones Review

August EP614 Sports Earphones Review

The guys at iDaffodil/August have very kindle provided me with yet another audio product to review. In general, I have been very impressed with the value for money of these products. Check out my reviews of they DAB clock radio and their small wireless speaker.

This time I am reviewing the EP614 Bluetooth Sport Wireless Earphones (that's the Amazon link). You can also get these direct from iDaffodil here. I was provided with the model with a white cord, though there are others available with black and red cords. A micro USB cable is provided, as are several sizes of silicone ear-tips. These are priced at £17.

Design and Features:
The over-the-ear design is perfect for sport and means that I couldn't find a way to knock them out of place. The headphones come with a remote on them with which you can control music playback (pause and play) and skip forward and back a song. Long pressing the skip forward and back buttons also allows you to adjust the volume. As usual, learning what buttons do what is always a little challenging at first - but, maybe if I'd read the included manual I'd get the hang of these things quicker.

The idea of wireless earphones it that you can put your phone in your pocket if running or on the floor if in the gym and forget about it. The playback controls and volume controls allow you to do just that which is great. You won't be able to look at the remote when wearing these due to it being quite near the right earbud, so the low number of buttons helps in this respect.

Weight:
The earphones are light and the remote's slight weight means it can be tucked into your t-shirt which means that the wire doesn't move when running. The only part that reminds you have them on is the over the ear hooks but these are a necessary evil for sports headphones.

Siri and the in-built remote:
The remote can also be used to take calls and there is an in-built microphone which is great. However, the lack of compatibility with Siri is a disappointment: you can speak to Siri through the microphone and hear him/her through the earphones, but you can't activate Siri by pressing the call/pause button unfortunately. This therefore meaning you need to touch the home button on the phone to use Siri, therefore negating the use of the headphones for Siri.

Audio quality and levels:
I was extremely surprised at the sound quality on these - it is very, very good. They sound as good as any non-Bluetooth earphones I've tried which is a testament to their quality considering how compressed some bluetooth earphones sound. The Bass could have been a bit better but this can be adjusted in software on your phone with an equaliser, so it isn't the end of the world.

The audio level of these can go up to a deafeningly loud volume. However, the noise isolation isn't great on these, even at low levels. This makes it unsuitable for using them for commuting on public transport for example. I would also have liked for the minimum volume to be lower - as it is, even when these are on the minimum volume there is some noise spillage.

Bluetooth and Battery life:
These are my first wireless earphones in about 5 years and the technology has clearly moved on. I will reiterate how good these sound - especially for Bluetooth headphones. I was particularly impressed that these are bluetooth 4.0 meaning that battery life is great. I was also impressed that on my iPhone I can clearly see how much battery is left on them when the earphones are connected. This avoids me having to guess whether I can get through the day with these or not.

As far as the battery life is concerned, I have yet to get these to run out of battery after five hours and they have no advertised battery life. I can definitely recommend these as far as the battery life is concerned. The bluetooth also surprisingly isn't too taxing on my iPhone battery life either which I am very impressed by.

Overall: 
As sports earphones these are almost perfect - great built quality, great sound quality, good battery life, they stay in securely, good controls and even the ability to take calls. However, the fact they aren't compatible with Siri and the noise isolation which isn't great loses these half a star. £17 for these is a bargain.
4.5 out of 5 stars.

These headphones were provided by iDaffodil/August free of charge in exchange for this review. This does not affect my opinions of the product and the review is an honest appraisal.
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Review: August DAB Clock Radio Review (MB415)

Review: August DAB Clock Radio Review (MB415)

This is a review of the August MB315B DAB Clock Radio. I was provided with the radio for free in exchange for this review and another on Amazon's website.

Visuals and Design:
The packaging leaves a lot to be desired as can be seen below. When I reviewed another August speaker product last year, I complained about how the packaging devalues the item. Here, I feel the same once again. It is certainly a huge improvement on what I saw last time, but it makes the product look cheap!



First of all, the radio comes in two colours - Black and White. Once unpacked, aesthetically, this is quite a simple but elegant design. There is nothing here that screams modern radio, and high-technology but this piece of equipment well fit well in the home and is packed full of features. The radio feels well-made for the price point it is in, and even comes with a lovely carry handle integrated into the design.



Inside the box you'll find the manual, a charger/power cable (not pictured), a battery and an aux cable. I was surprised to find a battery in there (it looks like one of those old mobile phone batteries from the nineties) as I didn't expect this radio to do anything other than plug in to the mains.

I was even more surprised when through testing I found I could get at least four hours of constant playback from a three-hour charge. This makes it perfect for taking into the garden on a nice summer's day without needing to worry about finding a plug.

On a short trip, as the battery is replaceable, you could take a few spares away with you and this could last you for a weekend away camping for example.

If you simply keep this plugged in all the time, you won't even notice the battery in there. If anything were to happen where the mains power disconnects, you'd still be able to listen to the radio in an emergency. This is an added benefit that not many devices can say that still have nowadays.


As far as the screen is concerned, it is clear and easy to read but I feel the menus could have been simplified. The buttons on the device are the kind that don't move when pressed which takes some getting used to, but they work fine. I would have positioned the buttons next to the screen, however, as you constantly have to look back and forth between the two to make sure you're pressing the radio button.

The fact that you can not only dim the screen but also turn it off completely, whilst keeping music playing is fantastic. Especially, if like me you hate hating extra light in your bedroom when trying to sleep. The time updates automatically as soon as you connect to a DAB station which is handy.


I am a fan of the volume knob which allows fine adjustment of audio levels, and also the way it is well integrated into the handle of the device.

Sound:
As far as sound levels are concerned, I managed to turn this up to the maximum which easily fills a room with no distortion. I was very impressed. Clarity was also very good and I heard things on certain songs that I hadn't heard before through my normal computer speakers.

Features:
The most basic feature of the radio is the ability to tune into FM radio, but the DAB capabilities are what modern radio listeners will be looking for. The quality is perfect and there is no degradation with DAB - you either get the channel, or you don't. I found that I never really needed to extend the antenna beyond the minimum to get a good signal - it was strong. I am sure living in the London suburbs certainly helps with that.


You can of course set an alarm to wake you up to the radio (with DAB or FM) which is relatively simple to do.

As well as the radio capabilities, the radio can act as a bluetooth speaker for your devices. I tried this with my iPhone, the speaker paired quickly and playback was perfect. Apparently, this also has NFC capabilities which means that instead of going into settings and configuring bluetooth, you can just tap two devices together and they will pair. My iPhone 6S does not offer NFC speaker connections so I could not test them.

Finally, there is even more connectivity with the USB and SD ports on the back giving you even more options, as well as the AUX in port which (with the supplied cable) you can play music into from any device with a standard headphone jack.


Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars. This is a solid choice, and probably the best radio I have seen in this price range. It is packed full of features, and is a good-looking appliance (at least from the front - the back looks terribly plasticky). I just wish the interface were a little bit better as it can be confusing at times!

The RRP for the product is £74.95, but at the moment you seem to be able to get it for £50 to £60 online, depending on where you get it from. You can purchase the radio directly from iDaffodil here, or from Amazon here.
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How to provide good customer service

How to provide good customer service

As long time readers will know, I do like to let people know when I have received good customer service as I am very happy to shout about companies that I feel deserve your business. Previous posts include my experiences with Lexmark UK, Amazon UK and Apple.

Today two of those companies make a comeback with more positive experiences, as well as a new service.

1. TransferWise
This is a new service I have been tested out in order to get Euros converted into Pounds. Usually if you transfer money directly between two international accounts in two different currencies, there will be a fee for sending, an exchange rate fee and a fee for receiving.

It is even worse if you are depositing a Euro cheque into a UK bank account, as the banks then want a set fee for the service, an exchange rate fee plus postage for the cheque.

Using Transferwise you can minimise these fees, I believe my fee was 0.5% total plus a card payment fee. In total I managed to make a saving of £140 by using the service when transferring €2000 to pounds. Side note: I paid by debit card so I do find a card payment fee to be a bit cheeky as there are no fees with these cards for retailers unlike credit cards!

Overall though you can't sniff at a saving of £140. Sign up using my referral link here and get it fee-free (and I'll get a small referral credit too).

2. Apple
Apple provided me with two examples of great customer service recently. First of all after my iPhone 5s simply stopped charging all of a sudden (this is two years since purchase with no applecare), they replaced the phone with a refurbished model (looks like new) under the sales of goods act. They sent me packaging, I send it in, they couldn't fix it so they shipped me a refurbished model back. This had the added advantage of also giving me a working home button which is a bonus as that was broken too! This was a long process on the website though and Apple does seem to hide this as much as possible. It is possible though!

Secondly, I purchased an App on the Mac App Store and it made out that it did something, but it didn't. I emailed Apple and I had a reply in just 33 minutes and was immediately refunded! I even had a followup email to check everything had gone well a few days later.

3. Amazon
Amazon once again makes its way back into my section filled with positive customer service experiences. I received a product which was faulty. I went on the website, was able to instantly confirm I'd get a refund, and print out a shipping return label. Then it was simply a case of walking to my corner shop which is a Collect+ store and leaving it. This avoids going all the way to the post office. Later that same day I had an email from Amazon confirming that my refund was being processed and the money was in my account the same day. Magnificent!

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Turning digital photos into lasting memories

Turning digital photos into lasting memories

After getting back from my trip to the USA a few weeks ago, I was astonished by the amount of photos I had taken - over 2,000 in just two weeks. I had to do something with these.

Something I always like to do when I get back is to immortalise these photos in print form. Nowadays, we are used to being able to take photos at will digitally without needing to worry about ending camera film, making sure it is put in correctly and wound up, or that a wasted photo will cost us when we finally get the pictures processed. Nowadays we happily snap away care-free but then we have a tendency to forget that these photos exist.

That is what is missing: the physical print versions of these photos to look at. Snapfish is one of the services I had previously used to do this, and this time I wanted more than just prints and check out what they had to offer. Here is a look at what I got and how they turned out.

Standard and Collage Prints
The standard prints look brilliant as per usual and the colours really pop on these which is great; and the collage prints are a first-time buy for me and I really like them - the let you have multiple photos in one easy to frame image and the web interface even lets you shuffle the order of the photos until you get these just right. I haven't managed to get a photo in but I can assure you these look great.

One Canvas Print


The canvas print is definitely my favourite buy this time, I went for the xx" X xx" size what is small enough to not take up too much room on my wall but big enough to make a permanent impact. Next time, I'd go for something even bigger as these really do look fantastic. You do look a bit of the image as it is stretched over the sides though, so be sure to leave a margin.


One iPhone 6S phone cover

Finally, there is the iPhone cover. Although it serves its purpose, it is my least favourite of the items in this order. It serves its purpose just fine - it does indeed protect the phone which has already taken a few hard knocks over the past month or so, but the actual quality of the printing is not as good as the other snapfish products.

I suspect this has a lot to do with how difficult it must be to print directly onto the plastic surface. Furthermore, the 'lip' at the bottom of the case which allows room for the speaker grill, charging port and headphone jack, is sharp and can be painful while holding the phone. This might be me obsessing over details though as anyone who has seen the case has been very impressed by it.

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There you go - my honest appraisal of all the Snapfish items I bought. In summary, I would definitely recommend the standard, collage and canvas prints, but I'd give the phone case a miss.

Disclosure: Snapfish UK provided me with a credit for this order in return for this blog post.
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Working at Disneyland Paris - Day 315 to Day 480 - It all comes to an end...

Working at Disneyland Paris - Day 315 to Day 480 - It all comes to an end...

First of all, apologies for the lack of updates on the working at Disneyland Paris front. I do realise my previous post was almost six months ago but a lot of things have happened. If you want to read about my experience from the beginning, you should check out this post.

Here we go:

Moved to Pirates permanently:
In my last post, I talked about how I had become an official Pirate of the Caribbean. After passing all the required tests to work on the attraction, I started working on both rides - two days a week at Indiana Jones and two days a week at Pirates. This was the perfect split in terms of keeping me busy as I never got bored of just working on one ride. As the weeks progressed, however, my health started to take a turn for the worse and after numerous doctors visits it was clear that checking all the harnesses was doing my back in.

Chilling with Captain Jack Sparrow.
After weeks of pain, not being able to sleep and countless doctors notes and visits, management finally moved me permanently to Pirates. This happened in about April. It appears I wasn't the only one, as two other Cast Members were transferred to Pirates too from Indiana Jones due to the back issues the ride was causing.

Overall, it is clear that I much prefer being at Pirates. Just the overall theming of the ride, the fact that you have so much control over it, and the fact it is so complex always kept things interesting - evacuations are a long ordeal but they break up the day a lot more than they do at Temple. You also get a much wider variety of guests, a lot more interaction with smaller kids and even character interaction once in a while.

Character interactions vary quite a bit: Captain Hook may pop into the greeter area and greet guests, Peter Pan and Wendy shout "Pirate! Pirate!" when they see you, and when Captain Jack Sparrow boards the boat with a child on the 'Make a Wish' program, you can't help but be heart warmed.

Thinking:
Meanwhile, while all of this was happening, I started to think a lot about what I wanted to do - at Disney, with my career and with my life. I found that the moments of solitude that you get at

Disneyland Paris were very important. These were the days in January and February when the park was empty. These were the days when you are at the greeter of Indiana Jones and there is not a soul in sight. These were the days when I was stuck at La Cabane des Robinsons and snuggled up to the radiator to try and stay warm. As much as I knew I should be enjoying myself, I wasn't.

Disney had lost its sparkle for me, the management philosophy was horrific and the possibilities of career evolution could only be described as few and far between. I felt undervalued, I felt overworked, and I no longer wanted to work for the company. I felt I could do better.

California Grill:
Moving swiftly onto something more positive, I visited Disneyland Paris' top restaurant - California Grill, located at the Disneyland Hotel. What a delight it is with stunning interiors, beautifully crafted food and even a private balcony to watch and sing-along to Disney Dreams on. It was a very expensive, but worthwhile meal.

The one year mark:
With the boss at Inventions
10th June 2015 was my one-year anniversary at Disneyland Paris. This flew by and it was incredible to think how many different things I had seen and done in a year. The celebration pin and meal we are meant to receive actually comes closer to the 16 to 18 month mark (Spoiler: I didn't make it this far). I ended up eating at Inventions, another of the Disneyland Hotel's restaurants on my one-year anniversary date - this was somewhat of an impromptu decision as we just happened to want something to eat and then Margaux and I decided the Inventions (a buffet) would be a good idea - it was! Delicious!

My one year evaluation came around quickly and I was delighted at the comments I had, the management clearly were impressed with my work, and they wanted to keep me. I would soon be handing in my resignation though, it was too little, too late. After a year of working here, this was the first good thing I had heard - this lack of encouragement, this lack of recognition was one of the reasons I was leaving.

Summer:
Summer rolled in which meant the return of guests, to give you an idea without giving away guest numbers, on a standard day in the summer we took in six times as many guests as those empty days in January. On busy summer days, it was even more than that. This is how I liked to see the parks, with guests, with new shows, with interactions, with sun! This summer in particular flew by as everything for me was focused on one goal - 1st September, my holiday!

Summer 2015 as a Pirate. I'm fourth from the left.

In the middle of the Summer, I handed in my resignation letter. Of course, this wouldn't be perfect without a little bit of irony - my letter was handed in and dated on the 17th July 2015, the 60th anniversary of the Disneyland Resort in California. My last day of work was set for the end of September 2015.

September = Holidays:
Me chilling in Diagon Alley
at Universal Orlando!
September came around even more rapidly than I thought and but the end of August I need this holiday! It had a few years since I had had a proper two-week holiday, not coupled with work and this was fantastic. Many would find it strange that I went to Disney in Orlando and California on holiday, especially as this was what I was escaping in Paris. I, however, saw it as a last opportunity to use my free admissions to get into the parks in the US, and those who have been to the US parks know that you can't quite compare the two.

I will try and do dedicated posts about this 2-week-long US trip, but the highlight were: 3 days at Walt Disney World, 1 day at SeaWorld (impromptu!), 2 days at Universal Orlando, 1 day at Wet 'n' Wild, 2 days in Las Vegas, 2 days in San Francisco, 2 days at Disneyland Resort, and a day or two in LA. This was one of my favourite trips I have done and I got to see and do so much! I also got to catch up with a lot of old friends and made a ton of new ones too!

(Almost) The End:
After my time in the US, I was more than ready to leave Disneyland Paris. Once again, I had seen the parks in the US, and I was ashamed at we had on offer. I came back from the US full of energy, full of customer service and I firmly believe that those last 8 full days of work, I provided some of the best customer service I have ever done. I was in full US-mentality with customers-first and went above and beyond. My workplace sadly wasn't helping.

The first day back to work was the last day of the Pirates refurb and so we did menial tasks all day, from cleaning the bins that would be going back into the queue line, to setting up all the ropes in the queue line that were removed for a deep clean (this is a huge job!), to looking at all the work that was still left to be done inside just hours before opening. The improvements were great - a new Cast Member shelter at the entrance, a new automated bridge system for evacuating the queue line and one two queue lines at the boarding point instead of 4. Plus, there were a few changes to the ride scenes in order to accommodate the Jack Sparrow animatronics coming in 2017. This was a quiet, calm day and a good way to come back to work.

Work over the next few days was the usual: greeting people, grouping people, dispatching and unloading them, control tower work, and evacuations. As I say, I did this with the upmost enthusiasm but inside I could not wait to leave.

My Last Day:
My time at Disneyland Paris wouldn't have been complete without something to prove I was right all along, and it came on my 'penultimate' day at work. It was the perfect example of why I was leaving. After being ill one day, I came in the next - the reason I came in and didn't call in sick was simple. We simply did not have enough staff without me and I didn't want to penalise my team.

On this day by the evening I was feeling terrible: I was ill, coughing, my eyes with crying, my nose was running, I had a headache, and I had no voice. I literally could not talk to guests and grouping them was a series of grunts and gestures. It was a poor guest experience.

Despite this, management would NOT let me leave. They said to me I could go to First Aid and stay there for the remainder of my shift but they couldn't let me leave. To clarify: management was fine with me not working and getting paid to be at first aid, but they were not fine with me leaving to go home (unpaid!) and recover.
Laura and I had our leaving day together.
Here we all are on Big Thunder Mountain.

I spent over three hours of my shift that night at First Aid so I could stay in the warmth. It was almost October and the nights were cold, especially when you work outside until gone 10:00pm. My situation was not helped by the fact that the new Cast Member shelter they had installed was unfit for purpose - the heating didn't work even though it was freezing in the evening, the light didn't work so we couldn't see at night, and the anti-fatigue mat that should have been on the floor was non-existent so we had to stand on the cold, hard ground for prolonged periods of time. No wonder I was ill.

Disneyland Paris wanted me to go 'above and beyond' but they couldn't even provide the basics for me. I went home tired, ill and furious.

The next day was meant to be my last - I did not go in to work. I was way too ill, and I knew that my absence would cause them major staffing problems. So, it worked out well for me in the end. Maybe next time they should treat their employees better.

The day after that was the last day of my contract - after enjoying the rides in both parks, and time with my friends, I went to officially terminate my contract. My ID was cut in half, my Ride Access Control card was destroyed and I was given a form to fill out. It was all very unceremonious and my Team Leaders wished me well for the future.

Conclusion:
And, there we have it the culmination of 480 days of working for the European mouse. Despite the fact it may appear to have come to a sour end, that's not the lasting impression I will have. Disneyland Paris was a fantastic place to work and I wouldn't have changed it for the world. I met some fantastic people, learnt a lot about myself and others, and got to improve my French a lot! From a logistical perspective, I also got to see how you keep a place that's open 365 days a year running smoothly...it really is an incredible operation, and a very valuable lesson in business.

Should you apply? Yes. Should you take that contract Disney has offered you? Absolutely. Take it. You will have an unforgettable experience.

Just remember... behind all the pixie dust and magic there is a lot of hard work, and things are not always as they appear in Europe's magic kingdom.
--
If you haven't read my experience working at Walt Disney World (which was much more positive in general), click here.
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18 new things to do on my US trip! A brand new bucket list!


18 new things to do on my US trip! A brand new bucket list!

I have been keeping this a bit of a secret but it is now time for me to reveal that in just 13 days I will be jetting off to the US for a trip like no other. This time I will be visiting four locations in the space of just two weeks with friends from work.

The trip will start off with seven days in Orlando visiting the Walt Disney World resort and Universal Orlando, of course. Then, it is off to Las Vegas for 2 days. After that, it will be time to visit San Francisco for the first time for 2 days. Finally, we'll round off the trip with a visit to Los Angeles and of course - Disneyland.

Even though I have visited two out of four places on this trip, I've got a whole lot of new experiences that I want to see. Herein begin my new 2015 US trip bucket list.

Orlando:
1. See the new Festival of Fantasy parade
2. Visit a proper water park - we'll be visiting Wet n Wild!
3. Ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
4. Meet Talking Mickey at Town Square
5. See the progress at Disney Springs
6. Buy a Disney Dollar
7. Stay at Cabana Bay Beach resort at Universal Orlando
8. Experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley
9. Ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringott's
10. Ride the Hogwarts Express
11. Go to Ollivander's and experience it!

Plus: I'll be able to get a look at the construction of the Avatar land at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and the new Rivers of Light show. Plus, I can re-watch Festival of the Lion King in its new theatre, and see the newly designed hub at Magic Kingdom. King Kong's construction at Universal will also be worth a look.

Las Vegas:
12. Here everything is new - from the strip to the hotels, and the Bellagio fountains to the New York rollercoaster.

San Francisco:
13. This may just be the most exciting part of the trip - I am hugely excited to be spending two days in what seems to be a beautiful city, and I am sure I will want to come back. I am not sure yet if I'll be doing a guided tour of the city or not. From the hilled streets to the cable cars, and the golden gate bridge to chinatown, there is a lot to take in. Plus, I've got a friend to visit who is living over there at the moment.

Los Angeles:
14. Take a proper look around Los Angeles and Hollywood by car
15. See the 60th anniversary at Disneyland - this means the new World of Color, the new Paint the Night nighttime parade and the new Disneyland Forever fireworks! I am so excited to see this! Especially the new parade!
16. Experience the unique Halloween versions of these Disneyland rides - Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday.
17. Ride the HD-upgraded version of Soarin' at DCA
18. Ride Big Thunder Mountain at Disneyland for the first time with its new projection effects! Plus, see the new effects on Matterhorn Bobsleds, Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan's Flight.

With less than two weeks to go, I'm all set and this break just couldn't come soon enough!

Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 4

Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 4

Continuing our tour of Europa Park we come to look at a few more of the park's lands, then find out what I thought of the park more generally.

Grimm's Enchanted Forest
This cute area has no major attractions per se and instead is just a series of interactive exhibits. For most of them you press a button and then characters will put on a little show for a few seconds or a minute or show. These are all themed to fairytales from the Brother's Grimm.



There is the Grimm's Library attraction in this area (which I did not experience), as well as a couple of smaller rides for kids. This area is one of the most dated feeling, probably due to how basic the character motions are. However, it is a few of these small interactive elements that would be cool throughout the Disney parks.

Minimoy's Kingdom
This is the newest area of the park and is based on the Arthur and the Minimonys (Invisibles) films. I had vaguely heard of the film before visiting but had no real knowledge of the characters. Instantly as we approached the area we could see that this was going to be different. For a start the employees in the area had highly themed costumes - Disney standards.

As you step into the main show building you are transported into a different world and the music, sounds, and visual elements immerse you instantly. The main attraction here is simply called "ARTHUR". I am extremely glad I hadn't researched any of the park's attractions in huge detail but this one truly blew me away.

Source: YouTube

From the incredible ride vehicles, to the great animatronics, and the music it was all amazing. From the moment the ride starts and even as you approach the lift hill you know you are going to be in for an amazing experience. This could arguably be the best lift hill in the world for any ride as the story begins to be told and you are fully immersed.

Mack Rides have done an incredible job with the ride system which allows the vehicles to move steadily, accelerate, decelerate and stop as they wish and along the route. This kind of system would add so much more something like Peter Pan's Flight at Disney for example. The lap-bar style restraint gives you are incredible range of moment too on this ride.



The show scenes are absolutely incredible and are of incredible quality and one particular scene when you are in a big city is just amazing. What's more, depending on where you are sitting you will experience different things each time. Some seats vibrate at certain moments, others see characters drop from the ceiling and others get a little splash of water - this all changes slightly depending on what seat you are in. These is an element of interactivity in this ride but it could just as well have done without it.

Lastly, the indoor and outdoor "coaster" sections provide a perfect mild thrill and change of pace from the slower scenes and are just breathtaking.

I cannot express in words how much I LOVED this attraction. It is definitely one of my top rides in the world. I ended up riding it several times, even taking the time to go through the single rider line once to get one more ride in that all my friends.

Our entire group agreed - this is what Disney should have built instead of Ratatouille. This is a true, high-quality attraction that you leave and just say 'wow'.

Other attraction within this huge show building include playground-style slides, a carousel and a free fall tower which spins.

Austria
This area's main two rides are: a log flume which is very similar to any other log flume in a theme park (nothing really differentiated it), and the alpine coaster which was like a mini big thunder mountain but which was a powered coaster instead of a real coaster and got up to some serious speeds - plus it does two laps.



Interestingly both the log flume and the coaster go through an indoor diamond mine, which you can also walk through. This was a nice touch. There is also a spinning swing type ride and a playground area.

Spain
This was one of the most authentic-feeling areas with a great attention to the architecture. However, the lack of 'real' attractions was a shame for the Spanish members of our party - there are a couple of fairground type spinning rides which is a shame. There is also a live show area which had Flamenco on when we were there - it was nice to see some live entertainment in the parks. Finally, there is the big "Return of the Black Knight" horse-riding show with duelling.


This was an enjoyable show, if a bit repetitive but a comedic element helped to break down the language barrier as 90% of the show is in German with the remaining 10% in French. I was very surprised to see how small the actual stage area was though! A few clever technological tricks are employed in this show which is worth a viewing.

Portugal
This area of the park is home to the Swing, Twist and Splash show which we did not watch (I'm not even sure it was on during our visit), a large multi-story indoor playground, and the star water ride of the park (in my opinion) Atlantica SuperSplash.


This is a very simple water splash ride but with a twist - you first go up, then are spun backwards, go down a small drop backwards, and then down the main drop into the water. We were happy to walk straight on every time we rode it, but the queue line can be massive judging by all the area we walked through. What was amusing was the fact that they had basically plagiarised the Pirates of the Caribbean film theme music for the queue line and changed a few of the notes - it was still very much recognisable but was funny to hear.

Netherlands
This area was incredibly hard for us to find and then once you are in it, you are boxed in and have to double back on yourself to leave. This seemed like poor theme park design to me. With quite a few Pirates of the Caribbean Cast Members on this trip, we were anxious to see Europa Park's version.

Called Pirates in Batavia and designed to be a clone of the Disneyland version from the 1950s, it is fair to say that the German's must have been shocked when Disneyland Paris unveiled their version in 1992. This version is a shambles in comparison, generally it follows the same kind of theme with a small drop, robotic figures and decors around and many riders would probably say it is similar to Disney's version.


However, a closer look shows that these are no animatronics like at Disney but rather very simple single-movement figures, the fire effects were extremely poor and overall there doesn't seem to be a storyline. The boat vehicles were very well themed, however. A poor sibling to the Disney versions. They even tried to create a "Blue Bayou" or "Blue Lagoon" type experience but here it was a counter service restaurant, and it did have a stage area which was interesting.

There are a few fairground-style flat rides here and the live 'Forbidden City' acrobatics show is here (which we did not watch). This is themed to Chinese culture, however, so I'd love to know why it is in the Netherlands...

Scandinavia
This was another poorly designed area of the park in terms of guest flow though the theming of some of the buildings was well done. The Fjord Restaurant was a nice quick service place to eat where we had salmon which was delicious - how about some unique food like that at Disneyland Paris? And not just burgers and chips. There is a swinging pirate ship like at many theme parks, and there is the Fjord Rafting rapids-style water ride. This was a fun ride though nothing distinguished it from other rapids rides apart from the fact it was reasonably long. It is certainly much better than Park Asterix's version.

Iceland
This area of the park strangely manages to house two rollercoaster in a tightly packed area. Blue Fire is a hugely-rating launch coaster which was great fun and we rode this a good few times. There's not much to say apart from how fun it was. The grip handle for the seats supposedly measure your heart rate though I'm not sure if the numbers being displayed were accurate or not. It is the only coaster in the park with inversions.

Source: dar.harelwebs.net
The Blue Fire queue line was a mix of an indoor area that reminded me of what a modern EPCOT would have looked line (themed to energy), an outdoor area and then another indoor area. If there was a story to follow here, I missed it. Remember, there were next to no queues for the rides, however, so we did speed through.

WODAN is a wooden coaster which gathers some impressive speed and although rough (as all wooden coasters are) this one was really quite fun and the seats did help keep your back in good shape.

Source: Wikicommons
WODAN has an incredibly long queue line that must have gone on for several kilometres and we had to walk through all of it with no shortcuts which is annoying on days where there is next to no wait. Some indoor parts of this queue were very well themed. Also cool, is when a train leave the station at the ride - there are wooden-stylefigures on the roof which turn their heads to follow the train as it leave, and then they turn to look at the arriving trains as they come back. This a cool, yet subtle feature. I did, however, feel for the employees here who work in an incredibly loud environment as the train comes roaring back through the station and over everyone's heads mid-way through the ride. It was very, very loud.


Other attractions
There is a parade and this was new for the park's anniversary. However, we failed to watch it so I can't say anything about it.
Note that lack of safety barriers of gates keeping you from the EP-Express monorail - goes to show that you common sense still does exist.

There is a train, mini monorail and large monorail that go through the parks. I managed to ride all and they are all great ways to get around, whilst relaxing and sitting down, and getting a view of the park. The big monorail reminded me of the ones are Walt Disney World which was nice.


General impressions and comparisons to Disneyland Paris
To finish up this article series, I am going to touch on a few more general things about the park.
1) The employees - As far as the friendliness of the employees I can see that Disney and Universal have nothing to fear here. A "Hallo" from me at the entrance, was completely ignored and the people at the entrance systematically took people's tickets, scanned them and gave them back - without uttering a word. There was certainly no customer service from any of the ride greeter when these were in place - they would simply ignore you, even if we said 'Hi' first. The nicest people I came across was a French lady working at the Fjord Restaurant and a German lady working at the pizza restaurant by the entrance of the park. They were friendly but I can certainly say that Disney has the upper hand in terms of courtesy - in comparison Disneyland Paris is the Ritz.

2) Food - What I really enjoyed about the park was the wide variety of different kinds of food, not (as mentioned earlier) just burgers everywhere. The prices were also very reasonably everywhere - except Food Loop where you are paying for the quirkiness of the concept. The small bottles of soda (25 cl!) and like of peach Nestea did irk me however. The quality of the food was great.

3) Prices - Everything from food to souvenirs, to parking, to on-ride photos (€6 at Europa Park [with a digital version included] and not €15 like at Disney), and even  park entry was reasonably priced. Yes of course there is a mark up in a theme park, but it is nothing like what Disney charges.

4) Shows - Although we did not get to see that all, the park did have a lot of live show entertainment on offer. I feel I needed to stay an extra day just to see all of these. Shows are always a great way to reduce ride times, increase park capacity and break up a day. The lack of a nighttime show was a disappointment though. Live shows are slowly making a come back to Disneyland Paris. I could, however, have done with the street-mosphere acts like stilt walkers in the park, or paying to throw water balloons at each others. It feels cheap and is annoying.

5) Efficiency - The Germans are known for their efficiency and they were exactly that. From the car parking to the ticket scanning to the way their group guests and dispatch ride vehicles, they were efficient throughout. This, I think, goes some way to explaining the lack of courtesy.

6) Cleanliness - The park was spotless. Impeccable. The toilets were spotless too. There were lots of trash cans everywhere too (however, having vehicles drive through the park to collect rubbish is a bit naff if you ask me - yet efficient).

7) Toilets - Speaking of toilets... they were everywhere to be found, were spotless and they were all themed to their respective areas. Now, if only Disneyland Paris could do even one of these. Park employees using the same toilets as the visitors is a big no-no from me though.

8) Maintenance - Everything looked new and shiny, and I guess that's what you can afford to do when you close the park to do maintenance. I thought Silver Star was a brand new ride judging by the ride track, the vehicles,  the queue line and the building - but it was opened in 2002! It all looked amazing and brand new.

9) Relaxation - Another thing we all nothing was that the park could be visited as a place to relax and not just somewhere to do the rides. There is an abundance of places to sit, there are lots of bars with a look over scenic areas of the park, there are sun loungers in appropriate areas, and not everywhere has intrusive background music meaning overall you have a less tiring experience, even though the park is bigger than both of Disneyland Paris' combined.

10) Languages - The park's main language is far and away German with shows almost entirely in the language, French is the park's "second" language and everyone we encountered spoke French. Most rides with audio had a mix of both languages, such as Arthur. Finally, there is English which pretty must everyone speaks in the country, let alone the park. Attractions and shows are not, however, performed in English at all.


Overall, I definitely want to come back and see the park in a few years. I wouldn't rush to go back straight away as I did get to do most of the top rides at last twice, if not three times. I would definitely re-visit though to see what new things have been added. I would really love to show the park to my parents and it would possibly make a nice alternative to a Disneyland Paris visit in the future. I think in terms of being able to relax they could do that here, but there would definitely be less rides that they would go on. We'll see...I know a water park will be coming soon which will only add to the resort's experience.
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Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 3

Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 3

As we continue our tour around Europa Park, here we take a look at some unique dining concepts and attractions. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of this Europa Park trip report if you haven't yet seen those.

Russia:
Attractions in this area include a Russian Handcraft walkthrough which we didn't see,  'Sleigh Ride Snowflake' which is a winter themed ride which I only know about because I've retrospectively looked at the map, and Mir Space Station which is a space-themed walkthrough. The main reason for going to this area, however, is for yet another rollercoaster - Euro-Mir. Again, techno music fills the air as you go up a rotating lift hill that very much resembles Eurosat in the French area of the park. It is outside, however, that the experience changes as your cars spin constantly over the edge and spiral round the buildings in a somewhat unnerving fashion until you start dropping at high speed. It was an alright coaster but nothing exceptional if I'm being perfectly honest.

Food Loop:
This restaurant is located in between the England and Russian areas of the park, and I have decided to give it it's own section. Food Loop is a unique location that found us waiting about 15 minutes to get in - even during the low season this place was packed and it was one of the longest queues we waited in during our stay. Having seen, the size of the queuing area, I can imagine that the waits for this place can be over an hour in the busy periods.

The reason it is so popular is best this fast-food place is unlike any other in the world. On the way in, and once you have gone through a turnstile, each person in your party will be given their own Food Loop card to make purchases with. You are then free to choose a table and choose your seats. Each table seats up to 14 people and the likelihood is that you will be seated with other people you do not know.



As you go around you can instantly see the appeal of this restaurant - buzzing around overhead you will see food and drinks being delivered in the form of small packages going to the table that ordered the food.

Once seated you will notice that the table is adorned with several touchscreen computers which travel on a track. Here you can select your seat number, you place your Food Loop card on a scanner and then proceed to select what you will be eating. Everything from drinks, to starters, mains and desserts is available right here. Once you are done, you confirm, your selection and wait for your food to come.


A word of warning, however. As we all learned, what you should not do is order your meal, drink and dessert all at the same time. As all main courses are prepared in the kitchen, and drinks and desserts and simply kept in a fridge you will get your dessert before your main.

Within 3 or 4 minutes of ordering and the fascination of watching food being delivered to other tables, you will receive your first items. When they arrive at your table you will see that each item comes in a special pod and has a tag for the seat number it belongs to. You simply spin the turntable in the centre of the dining table and your food will spin round to your seat. Once you have recovered your food or drink, you continue to spin the turntable and the pod will automatically slide all the way round and drop into a container for easy collection by staff. Now that is German efficiency. Admittedly this is hard to understand, so here is a video showing it all.


If you are really lucky you might even get to sit at a table where the food gets delivered to you, after having gone through a 360 degree loop. 

Overall, the whole idea is really fun, but the prices are very expensive in my opinion. A 250ml drink (tiny), a main dish with beef (which was tasty but very small and I doubt was fresh) and a chocolate mousse dessert set me back €20. I ended up having to add a portion of chips as a side to feel at least remotely full. That added on another €3 or €4 to the bill. The main dish took 20 minutes to arrive too, and it came well after the dessert and drinks. You pay at the exit of the restaurant at the end of your meal. I am still unsure whether I'd call this a fast-food or table service establishment after all that.

I would possibly go back to show the place off to someone else, but I would order each course separately and maybe go for something most fast-food-like to get it delivered quickly. Having, compared it to the other restaurant I ate in at the park - a fast food place serving salmon in the Scandinavian area - Food Loop was twice as expensive. Apart from Food Loop food at the park was very reasonably priced when compared to prices at Disney and Park Asterix. There are better value places in the park for sure, but it was a unique experience.

The Historama:
Technically, this attraction is part of the England section of the park but I think it deserves it's own mini-section too. This attraction is located under the Food Loop restaurant and monorail station. Essentially, Historama is a clone of Disney's Carousel of Progress attraction but instead of telling us about the progress of the world, it tells us about the progress of Europa Park. It was actually very enjoyable with lots of special effects inside the theatre including theme park models which came out of the stage, and a totally unexpected mini indoor fountain show. Logistically the show works like Disney's ride with a rotating theatre but the seating here was much more comfortable and everything looks brand new.

Unfortunately, the entire show was in German. Considering there were screens on both sides of the room, it wouldn't have hurt to have one screen with English subtitles and another with French. On even having alternating shows in different languages like Disney does for Disney Jr and Stitch Live in the WDS Park.

Adventureland
This area of the park is very clearly modelled after the original Disneyland. There is a Jungle Cruise style ride with simple animatronics but with no onboard guide in the heart of the lagoon, called Jungle Rafts.




You will also find African Queen, another boat ride on the lagoon akin to the Mike Fink Keel Boats at Disneyland (which operated for a very limited time at Disneyland Paris too by the way) which has water canons on the side. There is also a water playground in this area, and a stream that just runs through the middle of the pathway which was a nice touch that made the area feel more real.



This area is beautifully landscaped and is a joy to simple admire. There is a beautiful bar here which is perfect for doing that - the kind of thing that is really missing at Disneyland Paris, a place to simply relax and enjoy the ambiance. The plagiarised name could have been avoided, however.

--

Coming up in Part 4 is a look at my favourite attraction in the entire park - and it is not the high-speed rollercoaster you are thinking of.
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Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 2

Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 2

In the Part 1 of this Europa Park Trip Report I took a look at getting to the park, accommodation, and the attractions in the French pavilion. Part 2 here takes a look at more of the parks attractions and my impressions of them.

Germany:
The German area is the entrance of the park. We didn't even realise this area existed until the middle of our second day in the park, and we only saw it then by looking at the map. There are no huge attractions in this area, but it does contain a major restaurant and some picturesque gardens.

The fountains in the garden move in time with the music every 30 minutes. I was expecting something a bit more dramatic than what I actually saw from these fountains. They are more of a background animation than something you would seek out to watch. The area does, however, contains a lot of seating to relax in and several sun loungers.

There are some rides for really young children in this area of the park including a mini car and boat ride. Speaking of area for younger children there is a whole "Children's World" area which is by far the biggest playground I've ever seen and puts anything from Disney to shame. Lastly, you can catch the train and monorail which go around the park from the German area.

Italy:
In Part 1 I mentioned how the entrance to Italy was the holding area for the rest of the park, but there are also numerous attractions here too.

The outdoor attraction here is Volo da Vinci which is an interesting concept. The idea is that you are sat in a Da Vinci designed flying machine.



The ride takes you on a panoramic tour of the German area of the park, over the smaller kids attractions. By your feet you will find bicycle pedals which you can use to move faster. If you don't pedal at all you will still move albeit at a slower pace.

We seem to have missed one of the rides in this area called Piccolo Mondo which translate to small world, but is nothing like the Disney ride of the same name. This is a dark ride going past scenes to do with Italy. This, I guess, is a testament as to how well integrated the rides were into the facades as we didn't see the show buildings at all in this area and completely missed the ride.

I was hugely intersted to see Europa Park's version of Phantom Manor - or Haunted Mansion - which is called Ghost Castle. I had heard it was a poor Disney ripoff. As we went in, I was startled by how dark the actually show building was - it was almost pitch black and I couldn't see a thing.

The first room was a room with paintings in it, just like in Disney's stretch room the doors closed and a series of paintings began to stretch. Except these ones were much less family friendly. I remember us all laughing at one of them. Just like at Disney there is a hanging in this scene, except here a doll is hanged just above the guests heads and not in the rafters.



The main ride itself an omni-mover style system with a few nods to Disney's ride including a clone of the singing busts scene. But most of the ride was just a collection of every single haunted house effect stacked next to each other from pop up ghosts to an electric chain. The ride lasted reasonably long but it was all quite repetitive with no storyline whatsoever mainly it is overall as I had predicted "a poor Disney ripoff".

Switzerland:
Before we knew it, we had entered Switzerland - again a very nicely themed area. Everything here felt quite small and quaint. I was quite surprised to see that one area even had a stream going from a tap down the cobbled streets just like it would in a small village - a nice touch which I saw used a few more times in the park that just gives it a sense of realism.


The three rides here include a spinning plane ride which is a basic, but fun, fairground-style ride; Matterhorn Blitz a fun wild-mouse style coaster with a unique lift hill that I wasn't expecting and some serious speed; and Swiss Bob Run is a bobsled ride. The bobsled was rather unimpressive.

Greece:
The Greek area of the park features some beautiful theming, and is a stop of the EP-Express monorail. Atlantis Adventure is a shooting dark ride like Buzz but themed to sea creatures. It was fun though the guns had a very short wire, and the sound effect used for each shot was annoying and repetitive. This was a forgettable attraction to be honest. Flight of Icarus is a standard spinning ride.

Cassandra's Curse is a spinning room/mad house type ride like I had previously ridden at Park Asterix. The problem here was that the room felt way too small and therefore things didn't really work in terms of scale, though the addition of air jets here was a nice touch. If it weren't for someone else in the group, I would have completely missed the entrance for this as it is so small and unremarkable.

Pegasus is a family rollercoaster that can be compared to the Barnstormer at Disney world. We waited a good 10 minutes for this one due to the fact there was only one train running. Well, it still counts as a coaster credit so there you go.



Finally, the flagship ride in this area of the park is Poseidon, a combination of a water ride and a rollercoaster. It is actually quite fun, featuring two drops though the coaster section of the ride is rough. This isn't one of the rides that will get you drenched, however. The temple theming (left of frame) was incredible both inside and out.

England:
This area of the park very much resembles EPCOT's idea of the United Kingdom and features much of the same kind of architecture, though this version is larger. This is a stop on the the train which goes around the park.



England features several small attractions including Water Lane, a walkthrough area with water jets; as well as London Bus and Crazy Taxi which are themed kids fairground-style rides.



There is also a large creation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre that hosts a live show. We did not get round to watching this.


One unique attraction is Queen's Diamonds which is a (very) short laser maze where you must go through in under 1 minute avoiding the lasers in order to steal the Queen's Diamonds. This sounded good from the exciting music that played inside and it is a one-person-at-a-time experience. It was fun but ultimately there were only three lasers to avoid in a short section which can be done in under 20 seconds realistically. You get scored based on how quickly and accurately you make it through. It mustn't have been an expensive addition, and it was not hugely impressive but it was a fun unique idea that was memorable.

Finally, in this area you will also find a carrousel, a paid-for shooting gallery and a car driving experience like Autopia called Silverstone race track.

We've still only taken a look at about a third of the park's experiences so far. Check out Part 3 for a look at some unique attractions and restaurants.
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Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 1

Europa Park Trip Report - April 2015 - Part 1

Europa Park is Europe's second most visited theme park resort, after Disneyland Park. It drew in 4.9 million visitors in 2013, beating Walt Disney Studios park by half a million visitors. Considering the park is not open year-round, this is an impressive figure. Europa-Park is larger than both Disneyland Paris theme parks put together. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about so this week I went to check out the competition in Rust, Germany with six friends from work for Europa Park's 40th anniversary celebrations.

Getting There:
There are many ways to get from Disneyland Paris to Europa Park including a flight from Paris to Strasbourg, a train from Marne la Vallee to Strasbourg (then a bus from Strasbourg to Europa Park) or a straight five hour drive. We chose the driving option primarily because it allowed us a lot of flexibility in terms of timing, and it was also the lowest cost option. Tolls will cost you about 30-40 euros each way from Disneyland Paris to Europa Park.

Europa Park Pricing and Opening Hours:
Before we even stepped foot in the resort, we knew that there was a very different kind of pricing strategy going on at Europa Park. A one-day ticket is €42.50 and a two-day ticket is €80. We couldn't find any mention of a three-day or longer ticket. An annual pass is affordable at  €175 for adults, and €150 for children. Unlike Disneyland Paris, however, this will not pay for itself in one stay - this is how an annual pass pricing policy should work.

As mentioned earlier, the park is not open year-round. The Summer season runs from the end of March to the beginning of November. The park then closes for a couple of weeks and then reopens for its Winter Season from the end of November to mid-January. The park is this closed for about three months until the Summer Season begins again. As such, Europa Park is open for around 8 months per year which is long than most theme parks but not quite as long as the likes of Disney and Universal.

Standard Summer opening hours are 9:00am to 6:00pm, and in the Winter the hours are 11:00am to 7:00pm. This gives you 8 hours of park time per day. However, the park extended its hours according to how busy it is so even though the park may sit it officially closes at 6:00pm you may find that is is open until 8:00pm or 9:00pm. Unfortunately, this is no way of knowing the time the park will be closing in advance, the decision is made on the day and signs are put up at the attractions with the closing time. This was one of the things we disliked most about the park.

For the two days we visited, a Tuesday and Wednesday in April the park closed at 6:00pm. Considering that Disneyland Park in Paris was open from 10:00am to 10:00pm every day throughout our visit (plus Extra Magic Hours for hotel guests) it would have been nicer to see slightly extended opening hours. Speaking from a money perspective, however, I can completely understand the decision - Europa-Park was empty and they have no need to wait for night to fall like Disneyland Paris does to present its nighttime show.

Accommodation:
Europa Park has five onsite hotels, though only one (the camping resort) was available during our visit. Having looked at accommodation prices, they are very well priced and much cheaper than Disney. The hotels are full on resorts with great theming and leisure and dining activities. We, however, opted to stay in a lovely 8-person apartment at Pension Marianna (booked through Booking.com) located less than a 5-minute drive away. The staff were extremely friendly and definitely gave us the best customer service we experienced in all of Germany. The place is affordably priced too, and everything was in great condition. We couldn't have been happier.

Arriving at the Park and German customer service:
Parking is priced at a very affordable €5 per vehicle per day. Unlike at Disneyland Paris, you do not pay on the way in. Instead, you get a ticket, park and then you go to a machine and validate your ticket before you leave. It works very similarly to most parking lots in city centres in this way. This prevents huge queues both entering and leaving the park, as at some point throughout the day you will need to pay for your parking. Instead, this moves the queues from the parking entrance and exit to the parking ticket booths.

With the help of the new travelators (this was listed as if it were a new attraction in all publicity) we were soon at the park entrance. We walked to the turnstiles and were in the park within seconds. Here we our first taste of German customer service as we said "Bonjour" and "Hallo" on the way in, only get no response from the employees as they efficiently scanned our ticket. I thought the French were direct but nothing could prepare me for how blunt some of the Germans can be. It is not them meaning to be rude, however, it is just the way their culture is. More than anything, however, as seven Disney employees we were clearly comparing the entire trip to a Disney theme park. The fact that Courtesy is our number two priority (after Safety) at Disney was probably what shocked us most. The Germans are efficient but being courteous is not one of their priorities.

The Park Entrance and Layout:
Like most theme parks, the park begins with a sort of "Main Street" which in this case is a mix of different cultures in one place. I was immediately blown away by the theming: I can't think of anything that really stunned me but it was probably that I wasn't expect it to be as well themed as it was. (History buffs - you can see a part of the Berlin wall on this street). This entry area very quickly blends into the theme of Italy and the entrance to the Italian area of the park is where you are held until official park opening time. This is a similar to Disneyland Paris which allows you entry into their Main Street 30 minutes before official park opening time. The actual rest of Europa Park opens in a strangely abrupt manner - this is no announcement, and the rope holding you back is simply removed at 9:00am sharp, after which you can explore the entire park. In order to give you an idea of the quality of theming, here is a look at the Italy area:


As you may have guessed, Europa Park's "lands" or areas are based around Europe. This park is a Mack family product which was heavily inspired by Disney's EPCOT park in Florida. Although, Europa Park is technically older than EPCOT, it was a hearing about and a visit to EPCOT by the Mack Family that inspired them to create 'an EPCOT for Europe'. You will see that many of the themes, architectural styles, and even attractions throughout this park are inspired by Disney attractions.

I think this is a good time to take a look at the map, which in itself in't overly complicated - the problem is the park layout does not lend itself to easy discovery and with a central icon for the park getting you bearings can be difficult. Even the huge observation tower can very easily be lost in view behind certain buildings. The result is a park map that looks like this rather than Disney's hub-and-spoke design:


The Attractions - France:
One of the star attractions of the park is Silver Star and this is where we headed first (73 metres in height and a speed of 127km/h). Unfortunately, we took a rather long way round - I've made a little graphic to show you to quickest way to get silver Star in the morning:


The Purple arrow in the park's equivalent of Main Street, you walk up this area and then are in the main German area of the park. Here you will need to follow the red arrow to the archway and the Italian area - this is where guests are held until the park opens. Once the park is open, you will need to go straight ahead and follow the blue line, you will go through a narrow passageway and enter the French area of the park and go through some small Parisian-style streets. Soon you will be faced by the giant geodesic sphere (the golf-ball shaped thing in the image - and clealry a clone of spaceship earth). Here you turn right and will see the main entrance to Silver Star.

The wait time was posted as 3 minutes when we got to the ride entrance and before I knew it we were on the ride. The ride has one of the more modern restraints where you simply have a lapser style restraint that holds you in, with no over the shoulder harness. The most impressive thing about this ride is definitely the lift hill which in interminable, and gives you a stunning view of the park and the surrounding area. The first drop is great too and you really get a rush, though the rest of the ride is pretty same-y.

Having done the ride in a few different positions, the front (not the actual front, but second row) gives you a lot of air time on the higher portions of the track and was actually very thrilling. I didn't have a chance to ride the front row (there's a separate line for that) but I imagine the first drop to be terrifying with nothing holding you in.

I was looking forward to the Universe of Energy thinking that it might be a clone of Ellen's Energy Adventure ride at EPCOT. It was an omnivore ride about dinosaurs, so they have taken that part of the ride from EPCOT and then completely ignored the over 80%. I was thoroughly disappointed and baffled at this attraction. The exit pathway also has giant holes in the ground which considering the place is not well lit is prone to causing accidents. Why you would deliberately do this in a theme park is anyone's idea.

Eurosat is the park's Space Mountain and was over longest wait of the trip at about 25 minutes. The most unique thing about the ride is that the lift hill is a long rotating tube that carries the ride vehicles upwards for a couple of minutes whilst you hear techno music play. The ride is then a series of fairly unexciting spirals downwards. With no loops or inversions and with it being a rough ride, we only did this once and vowed not to return.

Magic Cinema was showing a 4D film about Euromaus (the park's mascot) to mark the park's 40th anniversary. There was a lot of 4D here including seat movements (which became a bit repetitive), springs of water, and jets of air. The 3D aspect of this was very well done, and the animation and music chosen was well done. Almost all the film was in German with about 5%-10% being in French though we did seem to get a gist of the storyline.

Finally, Euro Tower rises to 75 meters (about the height of Silver Star) and gives you a panoramic view over the park. This was a pleasant ride bar the recycled air and the fact we waited for ages for more people to load onto the ride before the operators actually dispatched it. Suddenly you get a scale of how large the park really is.

The view from Euro Tower.
Part 2 looks at more of the park's attractions, as well as general thoughts on the way the park is run.

Working at Disneyland Paris - Day 153 to 314 - 6 months of updates

Working at Disneyland Paris - Day 153 to 314 - 6 months of updates

Day 153 (5th November 2014) to Day 314 (15th April 2015)

So... it has been an eternity since I last updated you. Almost six months to be precise, oops. Here I have attempted to do a resume of all the things that have happened during this period. Be warned, this is a LONG post so you may want to grab yourself a coffee.

1. Christmas season starts
The Christmas season started at Disneyland Paris in November and went all the way through to the start of January. It is notorious for being one of the resort's busiest times. The resort, of course, looked beautiful with a new Disney Dream of Christmas show (which I really enjoyed), a Christmas parade (which had a catchy theme tune) and the tree lighting ceremony (which was my favourite event of the day during this season). That's of course in addition to all the Christmas decorations up and down Main Street, including a giant Christmas tree and the ice lights on the castle - there really is something magical about the Christmas season at Disneyland Paris. We saw some record-breaking guests and we soon discovered how many people we can handle in a day. Read on for more. Quick side note: The week between the end of Halloween and the beginning of the Christmas season was very, very quiet.

2. Evacuation training
Overall, November and most of December are quite quiet seasons and during the weekday almost all rides are walk-ons all day. It is a great time to visit for guests. It is cold, but nothing like January. The parks take advantage of the quieter periods of the year to do evacuation training which is where each attraction is tested after park closing hours to some extreme circumstance - such as a fire, or a loss of power at a critical moment. The Cast Members at that attraction have to do a full scale exercise including getting the firemen involved, etc. Other attractions Cast Members also get paid to be the "guests" during the evacs, which is cool as you get to see lights on versions of the rides and walk through them. I ended up being evacuated off Snow White and Pinocchio (both are terrifying in the pitch black with just sounds and no lights), and Peter Pan (which is an interesting evacuation with ladders to get guests down from the boats - the interior is interesting with the lights on too!).

3. Carte Vitale and Social Security Number
In a bit of boring news before we get to more exciting things, I finally have my carte vitale (for reimbursement of medical charges) and a social security number. I even have chosen my GP, and my housing aid (APL) for 2015 is sorted too.

4. The busy weekends
The weekends in November and December took everyone by surprise as we hit some record figures and I saw guest levels similar to how they were at Walt Disney World most of the summer. One day we had twice as many guests as were predicted enter the park! On one particular day I remember that Fastpass hadn't been planned for the ride that day (as happens during low frequency days), and therefore we had to tell people all day that we didn't have Fastpass because the park wasn't busy enough (or at least wasn't predicted to be busy enough), meanwhile... the wait time above our heads topped 80 or 90 minutes. People were not happy - understandably.

Photo: @InsideDLPairs (Twitter)
The reason behind the parks being so busy was that promotional tickets from French companies with links to Disneyland Paris all had end dates in December before the busy Christmas weeks, and families take the opportunity to visit with these discounted tickets. But the problem is everyone has the same idea and same availability, so weekends, particularly Saturdays in November and December as a no-go and as I saw the busiest I saw the parks. Even busier than on New Year's Eve. They even put up big "Parc Saturé / Park Satured" signs saying that although the theme park wasn't closed, it was very, very busy.

5. Anna and Elsa have proven popular
Anna and Elsa (from Disney's Frozen) became meet and greet characters for the first time this Christmas season at Disneyland Paris. I thought people in Europe weren't as crazy as our American theme park counterparts. Then I saw the wait times increase for the Frozen, again and again, until they topped 330 minutes. That is 5 and a half hours. To meet characters. When there are 60 attractions in the park, it is a shame to spend half of your day in one queue line, especially as most of it was outside in the cold. Crazy! It seems to have been very successful for Disneyland Paris though and an entire Frozen Summer event has been announced for 2015.

6. Christmas cast member exclusives
As is customary in France, many companies have special benefits for employees in the run up to Christmas. Most of these, however, rely on you having been at the company for a certain amount of time. Out of three forms of bonus available, I was technically not eligible for any. So, I was surprised when I got a pro-rated version of one of them - I was set to miss it by just 9 days so having some sort of Christmas bonus was nice. It was given to Cast Members to thank us for our hard work and in anticipation of the 'difficult times ahead' as we prepare for the 25th anniversary - until then lots of the park is going to be undergoing construction work.

Another thing that happens twice a year are the annual staff parties where there is live entertainment, free food and even gifts. This year the Christmas party was at the Studios. It was good but, honestly, after a while you've been there and seen and done the theme parks - especially when there are only two. The Cast discount was also increased during the pre-Christmas period at shops and restaurants which was nice.

7. Family came over and Friends too
Over the Christmas week I had my parents and brother come over, and then for New Year's I had my Fantasyland friends over who I worked with at Walt Disney World. It was really nice to see some familiar faces, and it was nice to show off the parks. Especially to my family, as it had been three years since my parents had last been at DLP.

8. Experiencing the Christmas season
Nowadays I only really visit the park once every two or three months - every time there is a new season really. The change in stage shows, parades and characters are really the only things that change but they are welcome changes and it saves us doing the same rides again and again. Yes, I never thought I would say this, but there are only so many times you can do Big Thunder Mountain, Rock n Rollercoaster and Ratatouille. Space Mountain, however, is a different story. They are still fun, but the novelty factor has definitely worn off.

Anyway, this is all to say that at the beginning of November I went to the parks to experience some of the Christmas offerings. Part of the Christmas offerings, was meet Merida (from Disney Pixar's Brave). I usually try to be quite logical, so when I saw that Merida only appeared for 45 minutes each day, I said to myself that the maximum I could wait would be 45 minutes... Well, it turns out the 45 minutes time is how long they let people into the queue (and then they were still open beyond those 45 minutes anyway, so gosh knows what the point in having a schedule is!?).


The result was that we eventually got to meet Merida after 1 hour 30 minutes. And then because everyone spoke French to here, she had very little to say...as many of the characters at Disneyland Paris when you speak to them in French. The interaction was very minimal, and nothing more than hello and then a photo. It was nice getting the photo, but I was disappointed. I would never wait that long for a character again. I think more than 10 to 20 minutes is really too much. The interaction was nowhere near as good as the Jack Skellington we had met during the Halloween season...or any of the Halloween characters for that matter.

However, we did get to meet Santa who was nice although a half an hour wait for that was still a bit too long for me. The non-waits for the Beast, Minnie, Gepetto and Stitch were more my style - and I got all four photos in about 10 or 15 minutes which was great. The Beast was huge (and apparently he's a rare character too)! I still haven't managed to meet Anna and Elsa which I would like to do, but I am definitely not waiting an eternity for that - they've left now anyway, so we'll see what it's like at the beginning of June!

9. "Why is Disneyland Paris so ghetto???"
That's the title of the following Youtube video, where American guests see how Europeans guests behave in the parks at Disneyland Paris. I agree with them.


I have also seen an incredible rise in the number of stickers being stuck everywhere in the park - it's disrespectful and rude.

10. The Discovering Magic Tour
A few months ago I got to take part in an 8-hour tour that is exclusive to Cast Members. It is free and goes behind the scenes to show us how the magic is made. No photos were allowed so I'll do my best to illustrate with words what I can. Our tour guides were the new company ambassadors who were very friendly, and a pleasure to meet. The tour started off in the costume making department - this is the department which creates costumes for characters. We were told that a princess dress takes three months to create, for example. I was surprised at how big it all was and how traditional the work was - every single thing is made by hand. There is a big team working non-stop on this year's things as well as next-years.

Inside the costume making department - Source: Mirror.co.k
We then visited the parade costuming department and saw all the different outfits that all the characters have - everything from hats to shoes is all kept in one place. Apparently it is going to be expanded so they have even more space as over 20 years they have accumulated a lot of stuff.

Next, we went to tour Central Shops which is where all the mechanical side of things happens. There is a separate "open day" event held yearly for this building, so we merely saw some of the highlights as we went through. Again everything is made specifically for the company from scratch - they don't just buy pre-made parts. We saw a whole host of things including animatronics up close, rollercoaster car chassises, carousel horses being repainted, and we even saw an Indiana Jones train being cycled (the process where they take a train apart entirely and rebuild it piece by piece). It was cool to see as working in operations this is a world you simply do not get to see. Next, we had a break and then went into the parade float hanger which is enormous and contains parade floats including things like the Casey junior train that is used seasonally, the current parade floats and even some old nighttime Fantillusion floats. It was nice seeing those floats as it was a great parade.

After lunch, it was time for the part of the tour I was most looking forward to - looking at the rides from the inside once they had been shut down for the night. The line-up was great so I was really looking forward to it.

We started off with a ride that I had always wanted to step inside of - Phantom Manor. The attractions section of the tour was led by Imagineers that work on and/or designed the rides. We started off in the load area when you get onto the Doombuggies. With the ride show stopped and the house lights on we were able to see many effects that I had never noticed before, including the lightning flashes in this scene and the fact that most of the staircase set in completely flat. We then walked the ride backwards and up the very steep ramp which leads to the unload area - I had always wondered how far apart these two sections were, and they are just around the corner from each other. We looked at the ghost mirrors section and we told how complicated it was to get it working, and then walked through the graveyard scenes and learnt a bit about the singing busts. We were told how the projector technology had evolved and been upgraded again and again over the years, but that Disney needed to be careful not to change the quality of the image too much - they want visitors from today to get the same experience as they would have when the park opened. I was surprised at how quiet the animatronics were in general with the audio turned off - I thought they would make a lot more noise.

We then walked along the track tot eh ballroom scene as viewed from the cars. It is remarkable how quickly you move from scene to scene when you simply walk the track and how short the actual track is. Here the imagineers talked about the importance of lighting as the scene uses a pepper's ghost effect. They have to get it just right so that you can see the ghosts appear and disappear, see the ballroom, and make sure that you can't see the two panes of glass separating you from the scene.

It had always been a dream of mine to step foot inside Phantom Manor and I was loving the guided tour, as we walked downstairs to see the animatronics spinning to create the ghosts for the ballroom scene. The ghosts were actually quite terrifying looking things as they had to have certain paint jobs to show up in the dark. It was at this point that I truly got a sense of the scale of how enormous the building was.

We then walked round to the ballroom scene itself and walked around inside. I was so happy at this moment, you can't even imagine. Again, the scale of things really came into perspective here as everything was in fact full size in the room - there were no perspective tricks. This was a real, full-sized table with cutlery and dinnerware laid out on it, a Phantom animatronic in the rafters, an animatronic of Melanie the bride, and much more. I even noticed several details like the sofa and collapsed bannisters that I had never paid attention to before. The spiders' webs are apparently made from stretched glue and then painted or given a matte finish. It was interesting looking from the room outwards, and seeing the ride track in the middle with animatronic ghosts both above and below the track to give the full effect. It was all very, very cool.

We continued the tour and see the back of the knocking doors scene, and show the show scenes are really very much back to back to keep the ride building as compact as possible (and if you use Google Maps you will see it is still massive). I really got a scale of all the mechanisms necessary to make even the smallest of effect work, and how much happens backstage to keep it all running. We unfortunately didn't get to go round to the Madame Leota crystal ball scene which was a shame as we ran out of time. Overall, I am sure you can see how exciting this all as for me.

Next, we walked on stage through Frontierland and Adventureland and were told to look at the floor and listen to the music and see how it changed from area to area, even within the same land to reflect the storyline. It was then time to go into Pirates of the Caribbean for a backstage look. Even though I worked in the same land, I had never actually been inside the building before. At Pirates, we walked through the pump room to see how much water was needed to power this immense ride (by far the biggest attraction in the resort - both in size and capacity). We walked onto the set itself and stood on the scene where the men are bidding for a woman. It was cool to see the animatronics all working up close - they look very powerful and every tiny detail is synchronised to perfection. We learned a bit about how at Disney the things closest to the visitors are all real but the further back you go the more fake things are. So, the buildings in the distance for example do not have real walls, but are rather very well painted scrims. Fascinating.

It was then time to cross the park and venture inside my favourite ride in the park - Space Mountain. We started off by going backstage, and immediately I learnt something - the ride is half underground. We walked around the bottom of the ride and looked and the immensity of it all - our loop at Indi can't even even begin to compete with the sheer size of Space Mountain's. We were told all about how the projection effects are triggered according to the positioning of the trains (these were the first HD projections in any Disney ride apparently) and how black screens are used to make sure you don't see things when you shouldn't. We were then shown how the star effect is accomplished - in fact there are a huge amount of disco balls on the ground and light is shone onto them, and in the dark these look like stars. We climbing the staircase to an area inside the show building above the queue line and then waited. The Imagineers turned the lights off for a minute and we just stood there, mesmerised in silence watching the stars swirling.

At the end of the tour, we gave back our safety hats and we got given commemorative pins to say we had done the tour, and we given sheets to provide feedback. It was truly a fantastic tour though I would have liked to have looked behind the scenes on several more attractions rather than going to the costume-making building for example. It did, however, really give us a scale of all the work that goes into making the park as perfect as it can be for guests every day. I really feel that this is an experience that regular guests would pay a premium for and hope that one day this will be something that is offered for everyone - it was an unforgettable experience, especially with an Imagineer explaining things, and by stepping into Phantom Manor one of my dreams came true!

11. Visiting the Disneyland Hotel Castle Club
I got to spend an evening in the Castle Club lounge in December with one of my friends who was staying there - this is one of the most exclusive areas of the Disneyland hotel. It was an incredible experience and I can truly understand paying for the extra benefits. The main benefit of the lounge, apart from the complimentary non-alcoholic drinks, is that you get a perfect view of Disney Dreams out of the windows - all this in the warmth without the need to wait around and with the music piped in. Unfortunately, it was exceptionally foggy day so we couldn't very much but it was still a really nice experience.

12. The transition of the seasons
After Christmas, the park went through the very, very slow month of January where guests were few and far between and every attraction was a walk-on. This also meant tonnes of ride refurbishment, of course, to take advantage of the low number of guests. Saturdays were much busier, as they are year-round, due to all the annual pass holders coming. I took the opportunity to go back to London for a week to get away from the Disney bubble for a while which was very much needed. It's amazing how a week-long break can change your mindset.

The New Mary Poppins Show - Swing into Spring 2015
In case, you're wondering it is now the Spring season which has brought with it lots of new entertainment, and in 6 weeks it's time for a "Frozen Summer".

13. I'm a Pirate of the Caribbean
I am going to end this update with my favourite bit of 'news' since the beginning. After having worked on Indiana Jones for over six months, I had got to the point of being tired of the attraction. I know how it works inside and out. I have seen every kind of technical problem, heard every guest question and understand the attraction well. In early January, the team leaders were looking for people to cross-train (being trained on other attractions) and I put myself forward strongly. At the beginning of February I went through the 7-day training process for the attraction. I had already made the step up from Casey Junior to a rollercoaster, and now I was making the step up to a 10-minute flume ride with the largest capacity in the park.


Training was great and I am now "checked" the attraction and most weeks I split my week and work a few days at Indi and a few days at Pirates. They really are two very different attractions. Pirate is a behemoth of an attraction for people of all ages and the interaction with guests is hugely different if only because of the costume - guests compliment you on the costume (which is by far the most beautiful in the park), they take photos with you, you sign autographs, they have tonnes of questions, they start themed conversations with you: "Hey Pirate", "Hey shipmate" and you can see that the theming and the show aspect of the ride really gets people immersed. Plus, you get a lot of interaction with kids which is a change from telling them all that they are too small.

Every day at Indi...
Technically the ride is much more complex. There are lots of things you can control where as at Temple the ride regulates automatically, at Pirates you get a surprisingly huge amount of control from the tower. You are responsible for many, many more people in the ride at once. Evacuations are huge ordeals. The disability boarding system is in a whole complex league of its own, and working indoors in the dark (but with air conditioning and climate control) really is a different experience. The whole experience is still relatively new to me and I am loving it.

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